Evan Madden | | Staff Writer

Even though many will testify that fierce drama and politics are not new to local school board meetings, the focus is usually on the issues of school budgets and student achievement. Since the murder of George Floyd by police last year there have been many institutional and student-led efforts to expand education on racial issues. The fierce backlash from conservative parents has made it a central issue and drawn an unusually high level of attention to this year’s school board races.

Pam Kirby, who runs “boot camps” for GOP school board candidates in Arizona, said the number of interested candidates she received this year was “Unheard of.” (Politico) The issue was highlighted in the midterm election, with Republican nominees in states such as Virginia, Texas, and Florida all taking public stances against teaching CRT in a bid to appeal to voters. Glenn Youngkinn won the key Virginia gubernatorial race for Republicans on the platform of banning CRT his first day in office.

Critical race theory is a higher-level academic concept, mainly studied in law schools. It entails a critical examination of racism as a social construct embedded in the structure of American society. Proponents of CRT argue that only by acknowledging the systemic nature of racism can the nation better address ongoing racism in its institutions. Before the past year, the term was not widely used outside of academics.

There are virtually no school districts that have CRT explicitly built into the K-12 curriculum. In most cases, CRT is being used as a catch-all term that includes diversity, equity, and inclusion education. Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, argued that the controversy was really a “scare campaign cooked up by GOP operatives to limit our students’ education and understanding of historical and current events.” (NYT)

Some conservative parents hold the view that CRT teaches children to categorize white people as inherently racist. Patti Hidalgo Menders, president of the Loudoun County Republican Women’s Club in Virginia explained her stance: “It’s dividing our children into victims and oppressors and what’s a child supposed to do with that?” (The Guardian) 

School boards have struggled to maintain civil discourse on the hot-button issue, and with debates erupting into screaming matches or threats. One such incident took place in Chester County, Pennsylvania this July when a mother was removed from a school board meeting after going over her allotted speaking time to argue against CRT. As she was taken out by police, she shouted “Why did you say you cannot teach history without CRT?” at officers on the board. (Daily Mail)

This September, the National School Boards association requested assistance addressing these disruptions, warning that U.S. public schools and its leaders “are under an immediate threat” in a letter to President Biden. (CBS) In response, the Department of Justice has taken efforts to monitor the situation and protect officials, despite criticism from Senate republicans.

Local school board candidates opposed to mask mandates and CRT were able to win many elections with the support of conservative political action committees. One such group, the 1776 Project PAC, was able to raise $437,880 to support candidates opposed to teaching CRT. The group boasted, “Huge Victories across the country and this is just the beginning” in a tweet announcing that 36 of the 58 candidates they backed won last weekend in states including Pennsylvania, Virginia and New Jersey. (NBC)

Although they saw mixed results this election season, conservative politicians and school board candidates will likely continue to appeal to voters’ anger over racism education and propose bans on the teaching of CRT. Battles over racism education and Covid regulations will continue to dominate the conversation in school boards, which have already seen a record-high number of officials recalled from office this year. (Politico)